Archive for the 'Career' Category

Future of Fortunate Bear and VectorBoolean

Almost two weeks ago I started my new full time position at Walmart Labs. I’ve been contracting with them for about the past seven months, working on the iOS app for ASDA. It’s been a lot of fun, and they’re a high-functioning team despite all the iOS devs, except for the manager, being remote. So I’m making the job permanent.

I’ve pulled the last Fortunate Bear app, Black Maria, from sale, and I’ve started the process of winding down the company. I’m no longer available for contracting. Since all progress on VectorBoolean has come via paid contracts, the project is now officially “done.” I was going to offer to take pull requests on it, but if I’m honest, I likely don’t have the time or energy for that. If you’re using the project you should probably fork it and maintain it yourself.

This is a big change for me. I’ve been self-employed, or indie, or whatever you want to call it for a little over nine years now. I’ll miss the freedom and flexibility that it offered, but I’m thrilled I get to focus on one product, work on a team, and not fool with the overhead of running a business. I can just be an engineer, and that in itself is pretty freeing.

The Fortunate Bear FAQ

As some of the more astute readers might have noticed, the sidebar and about page of this blog have changed to remove references to Order N and their products and services. You might be wondering what that’s all about. I’ve decided to answer your potential questions in FAQ format, in order to sound more pretentious.

So what’s the deal with Order N?

They’re still around, successful, and offering custom development services for the Mac and iOS platforms. However, I sold my shares in the company back in October and I’m no longer part of Order N.

What do you do now?

Mainly sit around in my underwear, playing solitaire.

…uh, anything else?

Sometimes I pet my cats, Luna and Pasha.

Alright, I guess we’re done here.

Wait, before you go, let me tell you about my new company.

You could’ve mentioned that earlier.

And miss out on all the interesting tidbits about Mac indie life?

Anyway, so you have a new company?

Yep, still shiny and everything.

…anything you want to say about it?

Yeah, it’s going to be awesome, sweet, sick, and possibly jivetastic, if that’s still a word.

I’m not sure that was ever a word. What’s the company going to do?

Be awesome. Gonna have our own tree fort and everything. See:

Klubhouse.jpg

It’s like Panic’s Founder’s Room, only cooler. I’m also working on the official company super secret handshake, but I can’t think of anything after “patty cake, patty cake, baker’s man.”

Wow, there’s so many things wrong with that, I don’t know where to begin. But I see the company name appears to “Fortunate Bear.” Where does the name come from?

Insomnia induced delirium, and possibly the sheer jivetasticness of myself.

Really?

No, I just randomly matched up adjectives and nouns until I found one I liked the sound of, and my wife wouldn’t divorce me over.

Is Fortunate Bear going to be a software company or what?

Oh, right, software. Yes, software will be involved in the process. I’m not much for playing solitaire with real cards. It’s the reason why the iPad is so magical.

Is the whole FAQ going to be this way? Because there’s a netiquette FAQ I could be hosting.

Alright, fine. Fortunate Bear is a software company focused on creating Mac and iOS apps to sell under the Fortunate Bear brand. I am the sole owner.

What about contracting/freelancing?

I might have to do some in the early years of Fortunate Bear, but it will be kept a bear minimum (see what I did there?) and phased out as soon as possible. I am not currently available for contracting. I’m focusing on building my own products.

What can you tell me about the products you’re working on?

I’m working on a Mac app for window management. It’s like Exposé except it doesn’t suck. I’ll be announcing a beta for it soon.

What about Hearts Attack?

I bought the source and rights for Hearts Attack from Order N. I’m renaming it, adding a few features, and changing the way it will generate money. I’m hoping to release it soon, but not until I get my Mac app out.

How can I get more information about Fortunate Bear and its products?

This blog will continue to be the main place I write and make announcements. However, I have a placeholder site for Fortunate Bear. You can sign up for the company newsletter to get announcements about products as well as tips and tricks after the products are released. There’s also an official Fortunate Bear Twitter account you can follow.

Anything else you want to add?

It’s gonna be jivetastic.

Please shut up.

The Story of Hearts Attack

I’ve already posted the press release for Hearts Attack, but I thought I’d share a little about how Hearts Attack came about.

Way back in 2008 the original iPhone SDK came out, and I, like a lot of people, was excited about developing apps for the iPhone. My company is primarily a software development services company so I was mainly interested in learning the SDK so we could pick up iPhone contracts in addition to Mac ones. It also happens to be the case that my favorite card game is hearts, so I decided a good way to learn the iPhone SDK was to write my own hearts game.

After a couple of weeks I had the basic functionality implemented, and noticed I was playing it a lot. I realized then that I could probably make this into a product. Furthermore, releasing an iPhone app through the App Store seemed like a good way for us as a company to begin making the transition from a services based company to a product based one.

If I was going to release Hearts Attack as a published app, I knew the UI and presentation had to be greatly improved. I went through a lot of mockups for the main playing view, including one where everyone’s cards — all 52 of them — were always visible somewhere on the table (a truly horrible idea). Unfortunately I don’t seem to have most of the mockups around anymore, but I found a couple which you can see below. (See the product page for the end result.)

HorizontalLayout.jpg VerticalLayout.jpg
VerticalLayout3.jpg HorizontalLayout3.jpg

The biggest challenge I had was fitting everything on the screen and it still being legible and usable. By trial and error I figured out how small I could make the cards and still make them tappable, as well as their optimal position to make them accessible with one hand.

I began thinking about what would make Hearts Attack unique or different from its competitors. Back then there were literally just two iPhone hearts games in the App Store, and I felt pretty confident that what I had was already better than them, but I wanted to be sure. I decided on: oddball talking computer opponents, a tutorial that gave not only card suggestions but the rationale behind the choice (a pet peeve of mine), and multiple undo support for mis-taps and tactical errors.

The last step was to get professionals to do the sound and graphics. I ended up hiring a sound designer, a graphics designer, and a character illustrator. The sound design went smoothly, but getting the graphics done was a lot more involved than I anticipated, which is another story for another day. Jordan of OneToad Design created the app icon, playing backgrounds, and the special card backgrounds for the queen of spades and jack of diamonds. Lara Kehler did the character illustrations, which turned out great.

Unfortunately, Hearts Attack went on hiatus in early 2009. I was working full time on an iPhone contract, and simply didn’t have a lot of time to put into Hearts. Secondly, I had lost all desire in finishing it. It was becoming increasingly apparent that iPhone users didn’t want to pay more than $0.99 for anything, despite all the whining I did about it. I convinced myself it wasn’t worth releasing Hearts because it would never make back the money it cost us to make. Hearts stayed dormant for an entire year.

A couple of months ago, I decided to pick Hearts Attack back up again. I had the time and, as someone pointed out to me, it would never make money if I didn’t release it. I was tempted to update the app to the latest SDK (I started Hearts back before you could even use nibs on the iPhone) and add some features. I decided against this, because I really just wanted to ship it. I did have to update it to the 2.2.1 SDK because the current Xcode tools no longer ship with the 2.0 SDK.

Instead I focused on fixing the bugs and adding polish. Fortunately for me my wife happens to be a professional software tester with iPhone experience, so I got lots of good bugs to fix. I also prepared a press release, created a website, and otherwise got ready for the release. After I felt the app was stable enough, I submitted it to Apple on Friday. It was approved on Monday.

At this point, I’m still not convinced I’ll ever make back the money we spent on sound and graphic designers. A hearts card game simply is never going to be a big seller, and price point isn’t high enough to make up for that. Right now, I’m tending to think pessimistically about sales, but I’m going to do what I can to drum up sales and see how things go.

It’s a “wait and see” situation as to if we develop any more iPhone applications to sell ourselves. Of course, regardless of how well Hearts Attack does, we’d be happy to develop your iPhone app for you.